Canadian Architect zooms in on Concrete Toronto

By Leslie Jen
Canadian Architect
January 2008

In this well researched and complete guide to concrete architecture of the 1950s to the 1970s, readers will gain insight into a defining period in Toronto’s architectural history. Interviews and essay contributions by architects, historians, academics, city planners, and journalists are complemented by a plentiful assortment of maps, drawings and rare photographs. From this, a rich discussion emerges on several defining landmarks in Toronto, and on the identity of the city itself.

Organizationally, the book is divided into sections, variously entitled Downtown, Infrastructure, The Modern Suburbs, Beyond Toronto, and Building with Concrete. In canvassing this broad array, the editors succeed in their task of making the invisible visible, these concrete structures that are seen every single day in the city and which are taken completely for granted. We crawl, lurch or blast along the massive concrete Gardiner Expressway, pass by the CN Tower and the Sheraton and Hilton Hotels as we head north towards Bloor Street, where we find luxury apartment buildings like the Colonnade and the Manulife Centre. Heading a bit further north, we might even be treated to the fanciful and embellished expression of Uno Prii’s controversial high-rise residential structures.

Communities outside of Toronto are not ignored, nor are the suburbs in this comprehensive overview -- as many of the city’s most important buildings are located in historic Don Mills, just northeast of the downtown core. John C. Parkin’s Ortho Pharmaceutical (1955) and Moriyama & Teshima’s Ontario Science Centre (1969) are discussed, as is the iconic Bata Headquarters (1965) by John B. Parkin Associates, currently under demolition.

As architectural fashion has shifted from the heaviness of Brutalist concrete structures of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s to the sleek evanescence of glass-and-steel towers erupting around us everywhere, it is easy to dismiss the architecture of past decades that has very much informed the image and identity of Canada’s largest city. Concrete Toronto provides a useful countering force to this idea of progress, and engenders a discussion of the intent, knowledge and ambition of previous generations of architects, offering guidance and perspective to architects practicing today.

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